Is Our Democracy Working?



If one lesson comes clear from 2020 it is that democracy is in deep crisis in Nigeria where questions abound about the state of the social compact between the people and those who lead and personify the state. Impunity seems so rife the youth mounted peaceful protests on police brutality and were greeted with bullets from the army; people feel the benefits of good governance are eluding them, with poverty so pervasive and insecurity so threatening; and anxiety prevails as Nigeria enters a second recession in five years.

What is the state of our democracy and how can we redeem it?

Of the many definitions of Democracy the one that has gained the most widespread usage is that offered by Abraham Lincoln. That definition sees it as a government of the people, for the people, by the people.

This definition clearly lays out the agency role of public officials, elected or appointed. In the role of a person in public life, as an agent, his or her duty is to carry out the will of the people.

Just like with Corporate Governance, in company life, the agent has a duty of utmost care, a fiduciary obligation to advance the best interest of those for whom they serve as agents. With so many voices being raised, complaining about government performance on these and many other issues, with little response from the Presidency in the direction suggested, or even in show of empathy for traumatized people, is the social contract broken here?

This fundamental idea that people have agreed to give up some of their freedom in exchange for assurance of security of life and property and the provision of common services, like infrastructure, have come to define the modern era.

In contemporary western democracy the need to be responsive to the will of the people has resulted tin politicians who almost have to look at the opinión polls to act. Tony Blair, as Prime Minister of Britain, and Bill Clinton as President of the US seem to have become archetypal of this form.

At a point some experts expressed worry that poll gazing was removing leadership from politics. The leader who knows better than the followers, they argue, should act for their good, the perceived common good, when the people do not know enough to act in their own best self interest.

Abraham Lincoln himself was given as example of a transforming leader who acted almost against popular will, at the time, and better advanced the interest of the people. It is thus with the benefit of hindsight that Lincoln is now globally acknowledged as the great example of a transformational leader.

James McGregor Burns in his grand tome on Leadership etched that into Holy Grail.
In contemporary Nigerian experience the Federal Government repeatedly seems to act almost with contempt against publicly expressed views of major stakeholders and the currents of public opinion.

Is this the new super transforming leadership or is this the antithesis of the public opinion poll-sensitive Clinton/Blair style democracy?

Where ignoring public opinion is driven by a higher ideal than the people calling for a different cause have seen, the leadership with this more noble position usually engages the people and tries to persuade towards the more noble track. But there is no more taciturn Federal Government than the incumbent, in recent memory, the sound and fury of its information managers, which generates more irritation and opprobrium than meaning and sense, notwithstanding.

In contemporary Nigeria and extant federal Administration, the agency function suffers disregard for reasons yet to be explained.

Feelings that the Trump era, in triggering warfare between moral tribes in America, is threatening democracy, is widespread. It is already seen as inclining political culture toward subverting democracy and has resulted in books from Professors at Cambridge in the UK and Harvard with titles like This is how Democracy Dies; How Democracies End… what lessons do we find in our current challenge? Are we headed towards fascism as a few noted commentators have lamented on television?

How should we read the dismissal of views of the National Assembly, Northern Elders Forum, the Sultan of Sokoto and many other eminent persons on the Service Chiefs and the State of Security in the country. Or of disregard of invitation to the President to address the National Assembly on Security.

Or the government’s failure to pay attention to the calls for restructuring the federation from Pastor Adeboye, leaders of Ohaneze Ndigbo, Afenifere, Prof Atahiru Jega, Northern Elders Forum etc.

One view is that to understand the disposition of the government is to understand state capture.

State capture which is the systemic and systematic political corruption in which the apparatus of government is deployed to orient public choice to advance the personal material and power
interest of those with a strangle hold on state apparatus , has crippled many societies.

A perspective on state capture is that it blinds you to what may be the common good and results in contempt for the will of the people as exemplified by Nicolae Ceausescu in Romania. The South Africans seeing its grave danger have set up the Zondo Commission to free their country from its evil even though it is hardly as entrenched there as in Nigeria.

Economic development is usually very slow with this form of governmental system as the interest of the few beneficiaries tend to trump the common good objectives in government decision making.
Understanding what our current realities are is critical if we are to resolve a myriad of existential crises facing Nigeria at this time.

So why did government perennially ignore public opinion, snub the outcomes of rational public conversation and often unleash social media avatars to ridicule people who help to articulate the voice of the people, which traditional wisdom sees as the voice of God; vox populi vox dei.

Explanations may be helpful to gauge the barometer of our democracy.

Where does the legitimacy of the government come from if it does not consider the voice of the people as being of consequence.

What lessons should we learn from former UK Prime Minister David Cameron in the handling of Brexit. He had his preferred way but turned to a referendum to determine the will of the people .
Nigeria needs a few referendums at this time. If government is accountable to the people it ought to consider this now.

The States and our Failing state

When last week we raised issues indicating impediments with our Democracy which were making it dysfunctional and preventing it from doing what it has done for Industrial democracies of the West, since World War II, providing the longest period of sustained prosperity in Human history, we focused mainly on the Federal Government. But we were acutely aware that as much, if not more damage, was being done to nation building , security of life and property, and economic growth, by the failure of democracy at the sub national level.

In this, the Part 11, we approach the crisis of democracy and development in Nigeria from the window of State governments and Local Governments, the sub national Governments. Our goal is to suggest necessary changes to the culture and practice with a view to boosting governance and make the country work for the good of all.

In a Nigeria whose prospects were defined, at the dawn of self government, by entrepreneurial, competitive, and more accountable governments of the Regions, the imperative of examining why subnationals are frequently cited for anti democratic ways that negatively impact the ease of doing business, the quality of live of citizens and peace with security, jumped at us as a matter that cannot be overstated.

So we try here to identify the source of the trouble with democracy at the sub national level and suggest how to overcome them through institutional arrangements, structures and culture.

We had suggested in Part 1 that State capture, the systemic and systematic political corruption which results in goal displacement in which common good goals are sub planted with personal material and power interests of individuals is central to ineffectiveness of governing in Nigeria. One product of this capture is pervasive corruption.

If this capture is debilitating of governance at the centre it is more destructive at State level where Governors sometimes operate like they were presiding over fiefdoms.

This personalization of authority often flows from access to Security Vote that is not accounted for which is drawn from to buy loyalty, offer patronage and fund Party structures and meetings. The governors do more damage than they realize through abusing property rights, violating the rule of law, and shrinking the space for democratic participation in governance.

Property Rights

A lot of the effort at enhancing the ease of doing business at the centre is daily shredded by the conduct of Governors in their violation of property rights through revocation of Certificates of Occupancy signed by their predecessors, failure to pay contractors for work done and unilateral termination of PPP agreements with foreign an local partners and demolition of buildings of opponents using the excuse of the law of eminent domain, that is, ostensibly, for greater public interest.

Erection of Criminal Political Dynasties

The use and abuse of security votes and the power of patronage by Governors generally results in the desire by Governors who accumulate the most public resources into their private pockets to continue to exercise control over the affairs and resources of the state long after term limits keep them away from direct exercise of authority.

They thus deploy looted public resources to the maintenance of structures of voter intimidation, and coercion and corruptly cause laws to be made to benefit themselves and cronies that help foster the strangle hold on public authority.

In the end more genius is deployed in maintaining these networks of machine politics than in putting in place infrastructure, institutions and the peace and security necessary for a better life for the citizens.

Assault on Freedom of Expression

The response of this federal government to social media which they themselves use aggressively against real and imagined opponents may be indicative of current state of freedom of expression in the country

These issues add to the trust deficit between the people and those who govern, with grave consequences for effectiveness in policy implementation.

Urgent Reforms

Among urgently needed reforms at the sub national level is the setting up of Separation of Powers and Good Governance Commissions to be constituted from civil society, dominant political parties in that state, private sector leaders, with a traditional ruler, youth leader and gender champion in the mix.

It’s duties would be to gauge the state of separation of powers and the autonomy of action of the realms of the state, and good governance in the state, issuing periodical reports at town hall meetings

The States should also have a high security clearance committee of the House of Assembly, that must include a member of an opposition party, in an oversight committee on the Security Vote. It should receive a quarterly Internal Audit report on the security vote disbursement, in Camera.

States should also be compelled to use Town Hall meetings in the Budget process from the point of establishing priorities to implementation monitoring.

Strict separation between the government in power and the party is critical . INEC , as civil society also should, needs to monitor closely the funding of the Parties to ensure state funds do not enter party coffers, from state treasury, illegally or without the full disclosure.

We know this is part of INECs mandate but it has lacked the capacity and the will to do so.

As Concerned Professionals we are concerned that most of these problems could have been avoided if professionals and professional bodies exercise peer pressure and hold there colleagues and members accountable for the ethics of their conduct and quality of their output in positions of public trust.

Criteria need to be set up for participation in local government administration. There is a huge pool of retiring senior civil servants, business executives, academics and even clergy thatch LG administration can draw from instead of thoughs and Tea boys of powerful politicians.

Training programmes in Governance Effectiveness, Ethics and Servicom, need also be deployed to achieve mindset change.

•For the New Fabian Society of the Front Bench of The Concerned Professionals: (Prof Pat Utomi, Prof Anthony Kila,Femi Falana(SAN),Dr Muiz Banire(SAN), Prof. Ebere Onwudiwe (deceased), Olutola Mobolurin, Dr Isawa Dogo and Dr Usman Bugage)